SPANISH FORK — Miles Watkins and Bryndon Cabreros have been looking forward to senior years highlighted by lacrosse.

It’s their chance to lead programs that have enhanced their lives for years.

But for those students in districts that are opting not to play in the first sanctioned season of high school lacrosse, that dream has become a nightmare.

“It’s a little heartbreaking,” said 17-year-old Miles Watkins. “I’ve spent all of this time building relationships with my teammates. Some of the kids on my team I’ve played with them every year since (elementary school). All those practices and long days with them, it will just be so much different if we end up leaving that all behind and playing at different high schools. It would just really stink.”

Cabreros said that he and his friends went from thinking they’d be pioneers to feeling left out.

“I thought we were going to have the first official Spanish Fork High School team,” he said. “It was kind of a shocking turn of events when we found out our district won’t sanction until 20-21 or 21-22 season. My graduating class is definitely really bummed. But we’re fighting.”

The issue for students like Watkins began when the Utah High School Activities Association Board of Trustees voted to sanction boys and girls lacrosse for the 2019-20 season in May of 2017. Almost immediately, districts began deciding whether or not they were going to offer the sport.

Among those opting not to offer the sport at their high schools are the Davis and the Nebo school districts. Alpine School District also opted not to sanction the sport but later decided that it would.

Brian Pilati, who is both a parent and a club lacrosse coach, said they knew the Nebo School District likely wouldn’t sanction this first year, and the plan was to continue to offer a club experience to students in those districts, similar to what existed before the association sanctioned the sport.

“Then in April, Alpine said they were going to sanction, and that took all the teams that were possible (for a club league) out of contention,” Pilati said. “With Nebo deciding not to play, that leaves 51 kids without a team.”

The situation leaves the lacrosse student-athletes in non-participating districts like Nebo with some tough decisions to make.

They can play in club leagues that will have far fewer teams and require a lot more travel, or they can use the state’s co-op rule to play for another high school. In order to “co-op," student-athletes have to withdraw from the school they are attending and enroll in the school that offers the sport they want to play. If they make the team, they’re eligible to play, and then after the sport season ends, they withdraw from that school and return to the school they were previously attending.

For seniors, it would mean attending another school the last half of their senior year.

“I really wouldn’t want to,” said Jordan Pilati, who will be a junior. “As much as I love lacrosse, which is quite a bit, I can’t leave Maple Mountain. They have one of the best welding programs in the nation, and I have friends there. I just can’t do it.”

“There is no mandate from the association,” said Utah High School Activities Association assistant director Jon Oglesby. “We have a lot of sports that aren’t fully adopted by every member. Not every 2A school has tennis, not every 3A school plays soccer. There are sports that some schools just don’t have.”

Parents have sought conversations with individual school administrators and district officials, but none of that has changed the board’s decision not to sanction lacrosse in the 2019-20 school year.

“That’s a pretty solid decision,” said Nebo community relations specialist Lana Hiskey. “We just started looking at it, and it’s a complicated process.”

Despite the fact that the sport was sanctioned two years ago in May, Hiskey said the district has had very little time to find a viable option when it comes to building programs at all five Nebo high schools.

She said club coaches and parents told district officials that there were 51 players across all of their programs, and she said, “You need 18 or 19 to have a viable high school program. And we have five high schools, and we’d need to have boys and girls teams.”

Parents and coaches believe first-time players would sign up if it was available through the high school.

I’d like to play lacrosse in college, but not having a high school team will hurt that. Our future is kind of riding on this decision. – Bryndon Cabreros

But Hiskey said the reluctance isn’t just a matter of not having enough players.

“There are a lot of costs, including coaches, fields, travel, officials,” she said. “When the UHSAA put us in a region that traveled to Uinta Basin, it cost the district $13 million just for travel.”

Hiskey acknowledges the difficulty this situation causes for high school lacrosse players, but reiterated the district has to make the best decisions it can for the thousands of students it serves.

“Nebo is definitely not against lacrosse,” Hiskey said. “We’ve had some great parents come and visit with me, and I’m sympathetic with their plight and their plea. But it’s a complicated process, so it’s got to be thorough.”

For some students the uncertainty of using the co-op rule involves trying out for a team that’s been playing together as a club program for years, while others struggle with what they’d have to leave behind.

“I attend the Advanced Learning Center in Payson,” Pilati said. “It’s like college but better. I get college and high school credit, and I am in the robotics and engineering programs. For $35, I can get credit at UVU, and that’s a pretty big deal.”

Pilati admits his high school experience will be diminished without lacrosse, but he doesn’t see how he can play if the district refuses to sanction the sport.

“I would just weld,” he said when asked if he’d use the co-op rule to attend another school to play lacrosse for the last half of his junior year. “There is not another sport I can play. Every night we’d have lacrosse practice, and it was a highlight for me. It was fun, family, friends … everything.”

Watkins said he started playing the sport in third grade, and he, like several others, had dreams of playing in college.

“I really want to play college lacrosse,” he said. “I actually play on a separate travel team, and it’s a UVU prospect team. … If I don’t play on a high school team my senior year, I don’t know how that will impact me. It makes it look like I didn’t play. It’s a nightmare, it really is.”

Jeremy Shoell will be a junior this fall, and he said he wishes the situation “were more simple.” He said other public schools have supported the club teams, even before they were sanctioned.

“Over in Alpine, they have all the schools' mascots on their fields,” he said. “We’ve never really had that.”

Cabreros said that while he hopes the district will have a change of heart by August, he’s not sure what he will do if they don’t.

“I’m really torn right now,” he said. “I’m not sure if we’re going to just continue to have a club team, play others around the state … or leave and play at another school. It’s kind of pick your poison with the options the school district is giving us. … I’d like to play lacrosse in college, but not having a high school team will hurt that. Our future is kind of riding on this decision.”